Black is Back: Dior
By Caragh McKay
With the launch of the Dior VIII, the eponymous LVMH fashion and watch house introduced a timepiece inspired by the designs of Mr Dior - and, in particular, the geometrical shapes of the Lady Dior bag. According to the brand's in-house designers, if Christian Dior had created a timepiece himself, it would have been the Dior VIII.
Christian Dior was a shy man. Perhaps that explains why he was also deeply superstitious and fond of consulting mystics, whose predictions he viewed as a spiritual guide. In 1946, a couple of weeks before the young designer was given the go-ahead to set up his own design atelier, he paid a visit to a favourite fortune teller. She revealed to the then-penniless designer: "Women will bring you luck and it is thanks to them that you will succeed in life."
It's no surprise then that he also took his attachment to the number '8' - his 'lucky' number - very seriously indeed. And so it was that on 8 October 1946 Christian Dior haute couture was established, in the eighth arrondissement of Paris, the place where he would go on to create the 'Eight' collection, and, most famously, 1947's revolutionary New Look.
In just one year, Dior had created a new silhouette that released women from pre-conceived ideas of how they should dress and in so doing established the business of modern dressing as a cultural, social and economic barometer, capable of changing the global view. From this moment on, Dior became a design visionary as well as a couture designer.
The Dior VIII Grand Bal watches are a collection of four 38mm pieces,each of the pieces represents an aspect of the couture house.
Today, the Dior brand is owned by the LVMH luxury group, but such is its dedication to the fashion house's namesake that last year it established 8 Place Vendôme in Paris as the new home of its fine jewellery and watch boutique.
It was a sign that something new was coming. And, sure enough, at this year's Baselworld watch fair, Dior launched what it sees as its most significant watch line to date, the Dior VIII, the core design being a tactile ceramic watch that directly references Dior's design inspirations, notably his favourite shade - black.
The pyramid cannage pattern of the cane-backed chairs that lined Dior's original atelier and became the house's design motif is also reflected in the bracelet and bezel, while Roman numerals are used to mark only the number 'VIII' on the dial. The range is mainly fitted with automatic movements but there is a small offering of quartz versions as well.
The Dior VIII line takes its lead from past and current couture collections. "We have even taken inspiration from the linings of some of Monsieur Dior's original dresses for our watch collections," says Laurence Nicolas, president of Christian Dior watches and fine jewellery, "because, just like fine watches, Dior dresses are as exquisite on the inside as they are on the outside."
By drawing on the original founder's personality quirks, the brand has got straight to the heart of why Christian Dior's legacy still ticks: heritage, skill, excellence, vision, and, of course, beautiful clothing. "There is a natural synchronicity between haute couture and haute horlogerie," says Nicolas. "Both are founded in the techniques of exquisite craftsmanship and each has sacred codes - methods, skills - that link directly to their heritage. That legacy is very powerful."
Which is just as well because prior to the Dior VIII collection, the Dior watch designs were spearheaded by the brand's key designers, including Victoire de Castellane, who still creates the exquisite La D de Dior line, and most notably, the now departed and disgraced John Galliano, who created Dior's best-selling Christal watch. The vitality he injected into the brand's watchmaking side is just as missed as the energy he dedicated into re-vitalising the couture side.
According to Christian Dior, "luxury is above all simplicity" - the perfect summary of the Dior VIII 33mm Automatique Baguettes.
So who is behind the Dior VIII range? Rather than link its products directly to all of its designers, Christian Dior watches now fall under the umbrella title of 'Horlogerie Haute Couture', which allows for some models to be designed and created by the in-house team at its Swiss watch HQ in La Chaux-de-Fonds and for other specific lines to be developed in collaboration with Castellane and esteemed watchmakers.
And, here's hoping that if, as is widely expected, Marc Jacobs is named as Galliano's successor, it inspires a future watch line: Jacobs is a genius accessories designer and did much to inspire the luxury handbag phenomenon of the past 10 years. He is undoubtedly the designer most likely to actually achieve what the world's key fashion houses are hoping to: namely to establish the fine fashion watch as every girl's new must-have.
But regardless of who gets the job, a new designer will do much to set future Dior watch designs aside from the competition's. This is a hugely important factor for the future of high-fashion, watch design because, currently, there does seem to be a tendency for all those producing women's luxury watches to add the same sporty ceramic touches, making different brands' offerings look as though they came from the same mould.
It's a possibility that does not seem to trouble Nicolas much: "We don't try to compete with other names as we feel that we have time to do what we want to do. We are different in that the Swiss focus on the engine and we bring our French spirit and creativity to Swiss watchmaking," she says.
Of course, for any house seeking to secure its position as an haute horologer of note, its Swiss watchmaking credentials are the most important element of any new offering. As Laurence points out, "the demands of Swiss watchmaking and Paris haute couture mirror each other in that each understands the utmost attention must be paid to tiny detail. It is the perfect relationship."
Previous Dior watch designs have been associated with specific designers, like Victoire de Castellane, Hedi Slimane and John Galliano. But the new Dior VIII collection is linked to the historical codes of the brand itself.
The right people
And when it comes to bringing its watchmaker friends and its couture heritage together, Dior has, naturally, excelled itself. Because, as Christian Dior himself once said, "couture is, above all, a marriage between shape and material."
A couple of years ago, Dior had the foresight to bring in the dynamic young duo of Johnny Girardin and Franck Orny to create its noteworthy Christal 8 GMT collection. This month, Dior Watches is adding a select new line to its Horlogerie Haute Couture collection, the Dior VIII Grand Bal, created in collaboration with the much-talked-about young watchmaker, Frédéric Jouvenot, winner of this year's GTE Superwatch Award.
The Dior VIII Grand Bal range consists of five automatic models (each is produced in a limited range of just 88 pieces), bearing all the hallmarks of the benchmark black model but with a suitably quirky high-jewellery twist, notably Jouvenot's inversé movement that reimagines the seriously technical components of watch design as light and decorative.
Hence, the defining detail of the Grand Bal designs is the deliciously pretty dial-mounted diamond and mother-of-pearl rotors, where the swinging weights echo the buoyant swish of a Dior skirt and are painstakingly jewelled to reflect a couture technique, detail or shape. "We make serious watches but we have a fun attitude," concludes Nicolas. The Dior VIII Grand Bal range is a beautifully, playfully elegant case in point.
Further information: www.diorcouture.com